McKinnie jumps on board for African relief expedition

  • Article by: MARK CRAIG , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 17, 2011 - 7:00 AM

The Vikings tackle couldn't say no to joining some NFL peers who teamed with a local foundation to distribute hearing aids.

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Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie is off TMZ’s radar and on to Africa for an important relief mission. “It was an experience that I wanted to be a part of,” he said.

Photo: Jerry Holt, Star Tribune file

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This is a story about NFL players that has nothing to do with labor, lockouts and lawyers.

It's a story about Vikings tackle Bryant McKinnie, yet it shines a light on something other than TMZ, Twitter or the size of the big man's Hollywood bar tab.

No, this is a story about 10 NFL players and their time spent helping on two charitable missions in Africa this month.

"Life-changing missions," said Brady Forseth, executive director of the Eden Prairie-based Starkey Hearing Foundation.

These are the kind of missions that have seen a poor Rwandan family walk 30 kilometers so a young boy can hear his mother's voice for the first time in his life. These are the kind of missions that have seen a 113-year-old woman hear for the first time since she was 52. This particular Starkey mission will see more than 22,000 free state-of-the-art hearing aids and a year's supply of batteries delivered in just 24 days.

"You see a life change right before your eyes," Forseth said. "You experience it and, well, sometimes there aren't enough tissues in the Kleenex box. For them or you."

McKinnie, Vikings running back Adrian Peterson and Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald Jr. are among the players who left this week for Africa. Peterson is one of the co-founders of "Pros For Africa," a non-profit relief organization that helps provide basic needs for children in Africa.

Fitzgerald, a Minneapolis native, is a supporter of the Starkey Hearing Foundation. So when the Pros For Africa and the hearing foundation ended up scheduling separate missions to Africa this month, an All-Pro union of helping hands was formed.

The other players are Vernon Davis (49ers), Vontae Davis (Dolphins), Roy Williams (Bengals), Gerald McCoy (Buccaneers), Derrick Morgan (Titans), Santonio Holmes (Jets) and Tommie Harris (free agent).

Thursday through Saturday, the group will be in Gulu, Uganda, helping workers from the Starkey Hearing Foundation fit children and adults with hearing aids. They'll move on to Ruhengeri, Rwanda, Sunday and Monday.

"AP [Peterson] got me on board," McKinnie said Monday on his way to the airport. "He's been over there before. He told me all about it and it was an experience that I wanted to be a part of."

McKinnie doesn't get much good publicity, if any. He has served a four-game suspension for violating the league's personal conduct policy.

He was dismissed from a Pro Bowl for not showing up. And while he was AWOL in South Beach, he tweeted like a thirsty teenage spring breaker. Many, including yours truly, roasted him for it.

There's also the recent TMZ report of McKinnie's $100,000 bar tab at a Hollywood nightclub during the NBA All-Star weekend.

"Who said it was true?" McKinnie asks when the bar bill is mentioned.

TMZ, you say.

"So everything TMZ says is true?" McKinnie asks.

Touché, you say. And, besides, where does it say that McKinnie's bar tab is anyone else's business?

Now back to Africa.

"I had no idea what it twook just to prepare to go there," McKinnie said. "I took 10 shots. Eight of them in one day."

For the record, those aren't shots of tequila.

"It's for all kinds of things, they told me," McKinnie said. "Malaria, hepatitis ... a bunch of things you don't want to get while you're over there."

There are pills to take before, during and after the trip to Africa. There's a video you have to watch, too.

"On the video, they're talking about monkeys jumping out of trees onto you," McKinnie said. "So you got to take a rabies shot because maybe a monkey will jump out of a tree and bite you. That's crazy."

McKinnie has a publicist now. But he says concerns about his image had nothing to do with agreeing to go on a mission to Africa.

"You kidding?" he says. "To think I'll be able to give a kid fresh water or be able to sit there and see him hear his mom's voice for the first time. Who wouldn't want to do that? Just in general, I think this will be a life-changing experience for all the NFL guys going over."

Now we return you to the lockout and lawyers. Unfortunately.

Mark Craig • mcraig@startribune.com

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